For many Catholics, the Pope is a symbol of hope. A man whose faith is genuinely exemplified through his devotion to spread the word of the Lord and be that ultimate role model for many to be faithful, humble, good, and noble. For the Pope, this devotion is indeed a daunting task, and spreading the Holy Word meant going beyond the confines of the Vatican, and out in to the world.
Throughout history, the world has seen the Pope traveling to vast locations, and helping him to reach out to people is the trusty Popemobile. From its humble beginnings many centuries ago as a human-carried “sedan”, to the horse-drawn carriage, to today’s modern automobile, we look back in time and admire the many different motorized vehicles used by the Pope to keep the eternal flame of the Faith in the Lord alive and well into the 21st Century.
In this trip down memory lane, our journey starts in the 1930’s during Pope Pius XI’s time. Commissioned for the Vatican as a gift from the already-successful Daimler-Benz AG, the Pope’s first automobile was a 1930 Mercedes-Benz Nurburg 460. A revolutionary automobile at that time, the Nurburg 460, with its elegant and simple design, was regarded by many as the first real Popemobile. Sporting an 8-cylinder engine and a 4-Speed MT, the Nurburg 460 can reach up to 62mph, more than enough to help the Pope carry out his Divine Mission. Though the car was already great enough, some additional mods had to be done for it to better accommodate the Pope and his journeys.
First on the list is a custom dove-shaped interior motif, which gave emphasis to a central-rear-mounted throne. A control panel was also installed to better signal the driver for instructions. The car was so ground-breaking at that time, Pope Pius XI even referred to it as a “masterpiece of modern engineering”.
For three decades since its unveiling, the Mercedes-Benzes Nurburg 460 remained as the Vatican’s Popemobile. Mostly unchanged in both its technical specs and aesthetical modifications, it has served Ven. Pope Pius XII from 1939 to 1958, and the first two years (1958-1960) of Pope John XXIII.
When the year 1960 came, so did a new Popemobile. Succeeding the high-reps of the Nurburg 460 is yet another masterpiece from Mercedes-Benz. Presented to the Vatican as Pope John XIII’s new ride was the stunning 1960 Mercedes-Benz 300d Landaulet. A spiritual successor to the Nurburg 460, this car’s body type was as elegant then, and still is today. Featuring a rear convertible soft top on the rear passenger area, it allowed the Pope a much more immersive interaction with the people. This car still retained the singular throne set-up, but has been updated to include electronic controls. Two extra foldable seats were also added for the Pope’s escorts. The Mercedes-Benz 300d Landaulet also had air-conditioning to provide that extra bit of freshness, as well as a two-way radio to improve passenger-to-driver communication.
Under the hood of the 300d Landaulet was a 1.8L SOHC Inline 6-Cylinder 12-valve engine, mounted with a rear-wheel-drive 3-Speed AT, delivering around 160hp, and reaching a top speed of about 99mph.
Being Pope John XIII’s ride until his final years as the Catholic Church’s leader, the Mercedes-Benz 300d Landaulet was then handed over to the new Pope, Paul VI in 1963. A year later, the Vatican’s Captain was seen waving to his legions of followers, on-board a 1964 Lincoln Continental. Suggesting a fresh new approach to Papal transportation, this American Hot-Rod, though not as techie as the Benz 300d landaulet, retained the basic essentials of what a Popemobile should have, but were elevated to a whole new level… literally, as the singular throne came with a hand-crank, which heightened up the seat about 1foot, allowing optimum viewing clearance for the Pope, as well as for the devotees. Used specially for the Pope’s US visit in 1964, this Continental had a robust 7.0L 16-Valve V8 engine, governed via turbo-drive AT, running the rear wheels.
After Pope Paul XIII’s papacy ended in 1978, Pope John Paul I assumed the throne, but his papacy was short-lived, following his untimely death in September 28 1978 (Just 33 days upon anointment). Not long after in 1979, a new Pope was chosen. Considered by many as the Pope of the new millennium, Pope John Paul II began with the most optimistic mind set of uplifting the Catholic Faith to prep up for the 21st century. And, with this modern Pope came a modern ride, when he paid a visit to Poland, his home country. There, he went on-board the awesome-looking FCS Star.
Commonly used as one of Poland’s most popular fire trucks, the FCS Star Popemobile had an open top which the Pope could stand and wave. It’s big, it’s unique, and it went down in history as the most “bad-ass” Popemobile ever built.
Pope John Paul II was very active all throughout his leadership, visiting countries here and there to spread the Holy Word. When he came to Ireland (his first ever Irish visit) shortly after his Poland trip in 1979, a converted 1979 Ford Transit became his ride. Simple and stocked in almost all of its ins and outs, the ’79 Transit Popemobile’s modification was on its rear, allowing a much roomier space for the Pope and his escorts to sit up and stand comfortably. It was painted in the Pope’s official white and yellow motif, making it a very unique kind of Transit for its lineage.
When Pope John Paul II visited Germany in 1980, what greeted him became the most iconic Popemobile ever built. Painted white with a “Mother of Pearl” livery, the 1980 Mercedes-Benz 230G Wagon signalled the return of the German automaker as the Holy Service. The 230G Popemobile came custom-made with a reinforced plastic “bubble” cupola, which can be removed when the weather is at its best.
Following the 1981 assassination attempt on him in St. Peter’s Square Vatican, the customization became a permanent non-removable feature, and was further reinforced to deflect potentially-deadly projectiles. It also became one of the vital features to be fitted onto future Popemobiles. To be seen by the people even when the weather is on the cloudier side, the copula was decked with an array of interior lights.
The 80’s saw a decade of worldwide missions for the Pope. In almost every country he visited, a unique version of the Popemobile from that country gets prepped. Keeping the assassination threats in mind, his next Popemobile came with the same protective feature. Fitted onto a 1981 Peugeot 504 Pickup, this Holy roller was used when he visited Lyon France. In his 1982 Spanish trip, he rode what was considered by all as the smallest Popemobile. Simple, humble, but with the same protective customization, the 1982 SEAT Panda Papamovil was the hottest vehicle in the global motoring scene at that time.
Pope John Paul II sure was a traveller in his own right, and for a good reason. In the 80’s and 90’s, many other automobiles have been granted the privilege of serving as the Travelling Pope’s rides. Among them was a 1982 Land Rover Range Rover Popemobile. Used during his 1982 UK visit, this one sported the Pope’s very first 100% bullet-proofed viewing canopy, fitted with automatic climate control and interior illuminations.
When he reached Scotland shortly after, he stepped inside the elevated protective glass room of the almighty 1982 Leyland Popemobile. Arguably the most robust-looking single-purpose Holy roller, the Leyland tipped the scales with its stunning 24-ton weight.
Several more of Pope John Paul II’s Popemobiles included a 1984 GMC Sierra (Used during his 1984 Canada Mission), a 1985 Mercedes-Benzes 500 SEL W126 (Used as his transporter in and around the Vatican), a 1997 Mercedes-Benz S500 Landaulet (Replacing the old Benz 500 SEL as the Vatican transporter), and a 2002 Mercedes-Benz ML430 (Used in his major public appearances until his final days as Pope before his death in 2005).
Fun fact 1: In his 1999 visit to Mexico, Pope John Paul II went unorthodox, boarding a bus, which… of course… was modded to protect him and everyone inside.
After Pope John Paul II went ahead, Pope Benedict XVI continued the Catholic leadership journey, reaching out to people and spreading the Divine Word on-board the former Pope’s ride, until Mercedes-Benz introduced him the 2007 G500. The Benz G500 was very similar to the ML430 Popemobile, but with the added feature of a foldable windshield.
After almost 8 years of papacy, Pope Benedict XVI stepped down as Pope, handing today’s Pope Francis the Catholic helm. With Pope Francis’ arrival, Mercedes-Benz was at it again, presenting him the latest Popemobile, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz M-Class Popemobile. Featuring a revised body, this new Popemobile has that default bullet-proofed canopy, but with more protective glass panels for additional viewing space, and increased standing height and interior illumination. However, being known for his humbleness and tendency to really go out of his was for the people, this latest Almighty ride could very well have the least amount of travel time and distance, as he prefers simpler means of transport with less to no emphasis on being bespoke, thus allowing a more intimate interaction with the faithfuls.
Fun Fact 2: Being used as a Popemobile by three different Popes (John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis) the 2014 Fiat Compangola Popemobile has got to be the “Holliest” of all Popemobiles, servicing Pope John Paul II in his final days, the entirety of Pope Benedict XVI’s leadership as an alternative Popemobile, and as one of Pope Franci’s public appearance rides.
Just in time for Pope Francis’ much-awaited Philippine mission this January 2015, we now take a sneak peak on some of the country’s contributions to the Pope’s transportation, starting off with Pope John Paul II’s first Philippine mission in February 1981.
Being one of the two “Pinoy Prides” in vehicle manufacturing at that time, it was up to Sarao Motors to lead the way, and it did in style, with its monumental masterpiece, the 1981 Sarao Jeepney Philippine Popemobile. Showcasing the Filipino culture at its very best, the Sarao Jeepney Popemobile was built from scratch, just like the proud Pinoy CJ-3B Jeepney, it was heavily inspired from. Featuring an open passenger area, the Philippine Popemobile allowed the Pope the most enjoyable experience with the Filipino Catholics.
Fourteen years later, Pope John Paul II returned to the Philippines to celebrate the World Youth Day in January 10-15, 1995. Following the assassination attempts he experienced in St. Peter’s Square Vatican, a new Philippine Popemobile was unveiled for him. Proudly made by Francisco Motors, the 1995 Francisco Motors Philippine Popemobile featured the country’s iconic Anfra AUV, fully modified to house a protective 4-inch thick bullet-proofed glass enclosure, which could withstand a variety of ammunitions. Not only that, the vehicle’s chassis was made with very thick steel. Heavy, to say the least, but is the best material to save a life who saves souls. Armoring the rest of the vehicle was an equally proud Filipino-owned company, the CTK Inc. The 1995 Francisco Motors Philippine Popemobile sported a 250hp Mazda power plant, capable of sprinting up to 80kph.
It is now January 2015, and finally, after two decades, the country will ones again host another Papal Visit. On January 15th to the 19th, Pope Francis will be on our country to bring spiritual peace, inspiration, and hope. In line with this, a new Philippine Popemobile is born. Information regarding this latest Holy roller was intentionally kept to a minimum for security reasons, but it is clear that the Pope will be on-board a jeepney-style open-top ride, very similar to what Pope John Paul II used in his 1981 visit. There will also be a second Popemobile to be used for his visits in the Yolanda-stricken regions of Eastern Leyte, particularly in Tacloban.